Potential role of ascorbate oxidase as a plant defense protein against insect herbivory

Gary Felton, C. B. Summers

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71 Scopus citations


Ascorbic acid is essential for both nutritive and antioxidant functions in phytophagous insects; however, maintaining sufficient quantities of reduced ascorbate may be problematical for them. In this investigation, we show that the plant enzyme ascorbate oxidase retains activity in the digestive system of the herbivore Helicoverpa zea. High levels of the enzyme are present in several host plants of H. zea, including cotton, tomato, soybean, crimson clover, and vetch. The enzyme oxidizes L-ascorbic acid to dehydro-L-ascorbic acid, a potentially toxic product. The oxidation of ascorbic acid also produces active oxygen species such as the highly reactive hydroxyl radical. The nutritional quality of protein for larval H. zea was significantly reduced by treatment with ascorbate and ascorbate oxidase. Oxidative damage to the protein was indicated by decreased lysine content, increased carbonyl formation, and the occurrence of protein fragmentation and polymerization. Furthermore, the oxidative loss of ascorbate in the herbivore's digestive system prevents ascorbate from functioning as an important antioxidant against a plethora of dietary prooxidants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1553-1568
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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